Archive for the 'books' Category

Amazing stories

Due to travel, I managed to read some thought-provoking, wonderful books last month. My family circulates books among one another — a lending library that goes from the one side of the country to the other, then back to the middle.

One of the books I borrowed from the family “library” was Please Enjoy Your Happiness by Paul Brinkley-Rogers. Gorgeous cover on this edition published in the UK. Like many true stories, you’re left with a feeling of nebulous (did he, did she… etc.) ending. I was able to suspend my belief and to feel like I was visiting those murky days right after WWII, in Japan. And if I were in occupied Japan, how interesting it would have been to meet the main characters — the narrator, a sailor on a US ship, and Kaji, a Japanese woman who was raised in China. They’re both in love with poetry, with music, and cinema. It was a  diverting book for a long airplane ride, and like the narrator (now older, and able to understand the gift of platonic love from Kaji), I wanted to step into the Mozart Cafe, listen to some challenging classical music, and see the story continue.

Now that Brinkley-Rogers’ memoir was passed on to someone else, I’ve begun reading Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You. So far I can only say that it seems to have a Faulkner-esque sense of time (looping back upon itself to move the story forward). And I hope that the loops will eventually jettison the family at the heart of the story beyond the great mysteries of loss that they’re dealing with.

So, are you reading anything I should check out?

Advertisements

Sporadic like sunshine

Another beloved aunt passed while I was at a business conference, and so … much of July and part of August has been me settling my mood. The world seems unbalanced by losses of people I’ve known all my life, even though it was great to reconnect to their children and grandchildren.

Which is why I’m exploring changes — either reducing clutter or talking with the family about moving away from the land of government work. I couldn’t picture myself working as a lobbyist 2 years ago. I don’t think that will change now.

So, if you had to rethink your life, what would you do or where would you choose to go?

The family conversation has led to a lot of surprises. Sporadic changes have started breaking through like sunshine. We started to repaint the kitchen (which had been in a holding pattern, partly due to the heat and humidity and partly due to the unending tyranny of travel).

Due to the heat, I’ve been reading a lot more than knitting. Two books particularly broke through the gloom of impending thunderstorms and ever present humidity.

Paper Love: Searching for the Girl my Grandfather Left Behind” by Sarah Wildman. Thoughtful, somewhat devastating read about the author’s research into people her family left behind in Berlin. It’s fascinating and interesting to see the research connections and learn the choices that saved people (or didn’t).

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” by Winifred Watson. An enjoyable farce from 1938 (filled with glamorous 1930s nightclubs and some typecasting). I can’t remember if Dovegreyreader‘s site or Cornflower‘s site that recommended it, or if I read about it on the Persephone Books site, and remembered it when I saw it on the library shelves. Anyway, whoever told me about it, thank you.

Hilde Domin – reading

Thanks to Buchmerkur Schroersche Berlin [Link here], I have started searching for English/German side by side publications of Hilde Domin’s poetry. I’ve stumbled onto the poems translated by Meg Taylor and Elke Heckel online here. Autumn eyes/Herbstaugen is particularly lovely.

I’ve also been enjoying a book on Harlem by Jonathan Gill. From the first altercation between the people already living there and the Dutch, to its place in history as a place for Jewish and Irish immigrants to start out, race clashes, and the Harlem Renaissance. The book continues through 400 years, and I’ve only reached the jazz era. 🙂 But it’s all history we didn’t learn in school, so I’ve been having a great time learning how much I didn’t know.

Reading – The Railwayman’s Wife

RehobothsunrisebWritten by Ashley Hay

Has anyone else had a moment where you have to return a library book, and instead you renew it so that you can reread the last 15 or 20 pages over, again and again?

Guilty. <– that’s me.

That’s the moment when things turn, like a train doubling back on itself … and I think, “There was a moment when one person being in the wrong place at the right time would have been nice”. Set in Australia right after WWII, although with flashbacks we do visit before the war… It follows Anika Lachlan and her child after she’s lost her husband. Some things conveniently happen: the town sets her up as a librarian, two eligible men come back from the war. But other things are less convenient: both men are haunted by the war and their dreams, Ani keeps finding she is losing the essence of Mac, or feeling that his presence is in the way in every conversation. One man is a poet who has lost his words to the war, and his ability to teach young children. One man is a doctor with a surly personal manner. It’s like the perfect setup for a screwball romance, except it isn’t.

In Ani’s own words “The year I’ve had, Dr. Draper, here, with my daughter, making sense of this strange new world. I’ve lost my husband. I have this job. I wake up in my own room, in my own house. And yet everything, everything is different.”  It’s different from the other after-the-war novels I’ve read, possibly due to locale and the characters who seem independent of anything the writer was leading them to. Definitely a book to reread.

Reading: The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid

Some books jump to the front of the queue, even when you have perfectly fine reading material home from the library. Val McDermid’s “The Skeleton Road” jumped to the front, in front of the latest Laurie R. King book, and in front of two other books that are due back at the library tomorrow. And it stayed in the front, and was read and reread in 4 days.

Brief sum up: satisfying mystery, with some comic characters, but painted with a very broad brush by the mixed-up sadness of war torn lands. Not sure this is a book I want to see on television, because some things are best left to the imagination. Probably I’m alone there. 🙂

I’m  glad not to have seen the blurbs about the book, since they would have colored my reading experience. I plowed into Prologue and first chapter from the start, and found it hard to go back to work after lunch break. Good cold-weather reading, when you don’t want to go out into the howling wind and shovel the snow.

 

 

Reading: All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou

egghalf_potteryAt the end of 2015, I spent my evenings traveling (via book) with Maya Angelou, as she explored the Ghana of 1962. In the past, I had read a portion of All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes either in an anthology or in a literary journal. The selection was a tight, interesting expository narrative. So, when I saw it on the library shelves in December, it came home.

These are her stories of struggling with wanting to belong, and having all of the history of Africa, America, and slavery in between her and that belonging. The journey is in a country that was just finding its feet, that was being wooed by Americans like Malcolm X, and also being plundered by art collectors from Western Europe. We’re privileged to sit at the table as the “Revolutionaries” feast on food from home in the USA, or to hear her explore the disconnect between what it costs to survive in the USA vs. what it costs to live in Ghana.

This is another book that just stayed with me, especially the moments when she felt that eerie sense of belonging, that her family had actually come from one of the countries that she visited. Read about the book in Goodreads . Do you think you, too, could identify with the quote:”The ache for home lives in all of us…”? Written in 1984, this autobiographical work feels more “real” than many. If you read or re-read this book, pay close attention to what Ms. Angelou chooses to disclose, knowing she can pick and choose what moments to narrate. The story of her drafting process →that’s one book I’d like to find in the library.

Reading: One of Ours by Willa Cather

Willa Cather’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, One of Ours is an unexpected story of an unlikely hero whose life up until WWI seems rootless. We follow Claude Wheeler, from life as an alienated young boy, to a young college student who finds the culture he craves in Lincoln to have it taken away by life and choosing the wrong wife. I was honestly surprised by the desertion of his wife Enid (and her abrupt removal from the storyline). While I read, I idly wondered what the political climate was in China (siege of Tsingto in 1914?) during the outbreak of WWI, and if the pair would reunite, able to mature into a firmer relationship.

Everything seems set to move him from struggling to keep his father’s farm together while a new farm was being established in Colorado, to odd marriage (with a house built by his own hands on Nebraska farmland), and days drowsing in the corn he’s harvested, wondering what his purpose is. And events prime him to be excited at the thought of going where the trouble is, and enlisting as soon as he could. From Americans he met overseas who had enlisted in the Canadian air force prior to the US being in the war, to other farmers he met from other states, who were also swept up in the tide… the story moves at an introspective wandering pace.  If you want drama, and a look at how Americans (or possibly Nebraskans) of the time might have come to look at WWI and its aftermath, it’s worth checking out the book from the library. I bought mine at the Willa Cather Foundation (I couldn’t resist a paperback with a beautiful scene of Flanders poppies). If anyone else has read it, do you see similarities with The Song of Werther, by Goethe? I think it’s mostly the alienation of the main character, not writing style or subject matter, but I could be over-analyzing both.


Flickr Photos

Archives